This Week in Arizona Politics: 5 Things to Know

January 02,2018 | Triadvocates

1. The surprising resignation of U.S. Congressman Trent Franks has created a significant shake-up in Arizona politics—the aftermath of which could leave the Arizona State Senate with less than 30 members when the 2018 legislative session convenes in just 12 days for the first time in many years. Last week, Republican state Sen. Steve Montenegro (LD13) resigned to take on a full-time run for the congressional seat. On Thursday, Republican state Sen. and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Debbie Lesko (LD21) announced she is also running for the seat and will resign sometime before the session begins. Precinct committeemen from both legislative districts will now nominate three Republicans for each seat and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will select one from each group to the Senate. Lesko’s departure will also shake up the Senate Appropriations Committee, which means we will have new Appropriations Committees in each legislative chamber, as Republican state Rep. and Appropriations Committee Chairman Don Shooter has been suspended from that role in the House. The only thing constant in the Legislature is change.

2. For weeks, political insiders have buzzed about who might run against Republican incumbent Michele Reagan for the GOP nomination after her prior opponent, state Sen. Steve Montenegro dropped out to run for Congress following the resignation of Congressman Trent Franks. There has been speculation that Paradise Valley resident Steve Gaynor – a politically unknown candidate with deep pockets – has been eyeing the race. While Gaynor, who owns an investment firm and printing business, has never held public office, he has been a heavy contributor to Republicans, giving more than $37,000 to GOP candidates for Congress and state office since 2004. Last week, his political strategist confirmed that Gaynor is considering a run, making him the dark-horse candidate that could be Reagan’s biggest threat next year.

3. The final countdown to the legislative session has officially begun—and with that comes the binge-reading of proposed legislation. With session just 12 days away, members have pre-filed 102 bills. Republicans have dropped 76 bills while Democrats have introduced 27, and the House is currently leading with 57 bills while the Senate is catching up with 46. The seven-bill limit in the House doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 12, so we will see an uptick of bills being dropped in the coming weeks. The proposals range from raising the marriage minimum age from 16 to 18, to banning billboards advertising medical marijuana, to free SAT and ACT tests for high school juniors in Arizona. Buckle up, we’re in for a wild ride.

4. Earlier this month, the Digital Goods Study Committee met for the last time to wrap up the discussion about the proper taxation of digital items. The final meeting lasted just 20 minutes and ended with the adoption of a set of principles that will be used to draft legislation for the upcoming session. To download a copy, click here. These are very broad and don’t provide much insight as to what the final bill will look like—as with every piece of legislation, the devil will be in the details. While the co-chairs of the committee, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita and Sen. David Farnsworth, initially planned to introduce identical legislation in both chambers in an effort to quickly advance the bills through the process, Sen. Farnsworth recently announced he will now be having his own separate stakeholder meeting the first week in January. It is unclear what he hopes to accomplish with this and therefore might hinder the ability to introduce identical bills. 

The #MeToo movement has grown far beyond a hashtag and the conversation surrounding sexual misconduct is showing no signs of slowing down. The Arizona House and Senate recently updated their respective sexual-harassment policies in the wake of an avalanche of sexual-harassment accusations that have jolted the state Capitol over the past few months. Republican state Rep. Don Shooter has been suspended from his powerful chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee after multiple women, including a fellow legislator and several female lobbyists, voiced sexual harassment allegations against him. There have also been calls for the suspension of Republican state Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita from her position as chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee following accusations that she engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a former House staff member. Accusations of sexual misconduct have also riled the Democratic caucus in the House. In mid-November, Democratic Rep. Ray Martinez sent a complaint to the House Ethics Committee alleging that Democratic Rep. Rebecca Rios, the current House minority leader, had a sexual relationship with a security staffer for the chamber. While the ethics complaint against Rios has since been dropped and Ugenti-Rita has not been suspended from her chairmanship, the allegations have created turmoil in both Caucuses that will significantly impact the dynamics next session.

The latest twist as allegations of misconduct continue to roil the Capitol, the Arizona state government this week released settlement amounts in sexual harassment cases, as well as multiple reports on internal harassment investigations that up until now have been concealed. The release of documents comes in response to a request filed by the Phoenix New Times for records related to sexual-harassment investigations within state agencies to get a sense of how the national problem was affecting state government. According to the state records, the Arizona Department of Administration has paid out roughly $1.9 million in settlements for sexual harassment claims from 2007 to 2016, while the Department of Corrections has paid out nearly $1 million to settle five sexual harassment cases in recent years—one of which was settled in 2011 for $460,801 alone. To read the full article, click here.

Last week, Southern Arizona legislators toured the Tucson International Airport and discussed the importance of protecting the Arizona Aviation Fund and the airport’s newest development. Annually, aviation-related activities generate $32 billion in economic activity statewide. Any diversion of aviation funds threatens the ability to leverage federal matching dollars and severely impacts the state’s economic growth.​



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